Life goes on.” Darren Sammy seems unperturbed relaying this. When quizzed on life after resigning as West Indies Test captain and retiring from that format of the game, he shrugs, nonchalantly. There is neither a disconsolate hunch nor disapproving words. Sammy seems relaxed and at peace, genuinely grateful for the opportunities given.
When asked to summarize his post-Test career in one word, he said it was too soon.
“Ask me again in a year,” he joked.
He was offered the same question but this time, with two words to respond. He blushed.
“Less stress?” I prompted.
He became stern. Swiftly.
“It’s never been stressful for me,” he discloses. “I’ve always been happy to represent the West Indies. I’m proud of what I’ve done. I’m available for the T20 and ODI format of the game still and in retiring from Test cricket, well, life continues as usual. I’ve got more time now to spend with my family. As a professional, you often miss out on your kids growing up. These times are important to me and I’m happy.”
He admits that with the reduced workload, he feels fresher, more rejuvenated and healthier. An extended run of fitness was something very pertinent in this major decision that sent shockwaves reverberating throughout the fraternity.
“It’s just been one series (against New Zealand) that I’ve missed. I’m just moving on and solely committed to the other formats for West Indies. But wherever available, I’ll play cricket to keep me occupied,” he continues.
Sammy is referring to the Indian Premier League (IPL). He’s revered for Sunrisers Hyderabad. His hefty blows not only wowed the last World Twenty20 (T20) tournament but also stunned the preceding England visit to the Caribbean. They call him ‘The Closer’.
Rewind to October 2010, when the likes of then-skipper Chris Gayle and all-rounder, Dwayne Bravo, drew the ire of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB). During this tumultuous period, Sammy, seen as a perennial underachiever, was given captaincy in a baptism of fire. He took a subpar team to Sri Lanka, which would compound a dire period for West Indies in their Test rankings and eventual descent. Sammy was seen during this fall from grace as the WICB’s boy-scout and at times, ‘yes-man’. While he wasn’t that epic a player, he was well-liked, and adept at managing personalities in a team fractured by inter-island tension. Critics, however, said he unbalanced the team and kept other deserving all-rounders out. His stats reflected as such. A Test batting average of 21.68 after 38 matches with just 84 wickets to his name at 37.79 apiece highlighted his mediocre standard. It gave his denouncers enough fuel to fan the flames.
But with the mantle of “skipper”, he was untouchable. Even at its most questionable, his selection advisement appeared to be impervious and set in stone. Times were tense; the Windies were being seen as a train-wreck falling off the tracks. Their performances were disappointing with Sammy bent on instilling unity and cultivating harmony at the expense of on-field quality. West Indies’ credibility took a hard hit—one it’s struggling to recover from.
‘The Closer’ is now set for a T20 circuit in his downtime. ‘Super Sammy’ already tasted the 2014 NatWest T20 Blast in England with Glamorgan—an experience he deems “exciting”. And he’s amped for Hobart Hurricanes in Australia’s 2014/15 Big Bash League. “In T20 cricket, every ball is an event,” he commented, and indicated it would be remiss of him to look too far down the line. After all, year-end visits to India and South Africa loom.
“While I’m happy my talent is being sought all over the world, I still have a job to do. When the time comes to don the West Indies uniform, I will give it my best shot,” he adds, pointing to England’s return to the Caribbean next year as something to watch. Not to mention the 2015 Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Or as he calls it, “the mecca of One-Days.”
But Sammy knows that T20 will be his main forte. Especially as Clive Lloyd, chief selector, seeks to blood in the youth, yet again. It’s hard to label Sammy a T20 mercenary because he did step up and lead the West Indies team when no one wanted to. Sammy, in spite of his shortcomings on the pitch, was one, and will always be one, to bet on to choose West Indies over any sum of money thrown at him. He is loyal—standing up to any ordeal on or off the pitch…and backing the region to the bone.
And why not get the best of both worlds? He wants to help the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) blossom. Of the two competitions thus far, he says, “They’ve been good. Games got exciting as the tournament progressed. Trinidad, Barbados, Guyana, St. Kitts, St. Lucia and Jamaica. Everything came to a big climax. It’s a brand that could grow every year and I’m hoping we do so.” As leader of the St. Lucia Zouks, who turned in another woeful year to run second-from-bottom in the table, he admits that the quality of cricket needed a boost.
“We’ve not been consistently good enough. We’ve played well in certain areas but the other teams handle pressure much better. It’s not doom and gloom for us. The belief is ever-present,” he divulges, ever the optimist. The team distribution and balance of the auction were things he shied away from speaking of but hinted were a tad skewed. He said they got what they wanted in the auction and chalked their dismal showing up to the loss of the injured Brad Hodge and the late Kevin Pietersen cameo but deep down, his analysis seemed rooted to the region. It felt like he had something to say…but was holding back.
Some integral players he expressed a keen desire to gel and work with in the future include Andre Fletcher and Keddy Lesporis—as he touched on helping better players to place them in contention for Windies duty. Nonetheless, he confessed that the Zouks, much akin to the CPL, were a work in progress. Again, he saw only positives.
And on the Tino Best spat with Shoaib Malik and Kieron Pollard…well, he tried to be a pacifist about the entire incident. “Tino’s a special character. The more I’ve played with him, the more I’ve understood him. In any cricket game, you want to play within the spirit of the game. I hope Tino gets better because he’s not a young man. Once we control him and use his head a bit more wisely, he’s a good asset,” Sammy diplomatically states. No condemnation.
When asked why the reluctance of management to bring Best to Trinidad on the heels of the dispute, his temper flares. “Look man…cricket is being played on the field. It was a management decision. We’ve spoken to Tino and I see all of you all pointing to Tino Best but there were two guys involved, not just one person. Everyone keeps jumping on Tino, Tino, Tino! It takes two hands to clap!” he blares.
I immediately sympathized with how James Faulkner must have felt when Sammy flayed him in the WT20 encounter in Bangladesh. Nervously, I segued into the next question after striking that nerve. It concerned the future of the Test team and its direction.
“It’s time for (Denesh) Ramdin. I’m happy with that,” Sammy says of his successor. “I give him my support and blessings.”